Sifan Hassan reacts to her world 10,000m record in Hengelo (© FBK Games)
There was little about Sifan Hassan’s run at the FBK Games in Hengelo on Sunday (6) that gave the impression she was being patient. Eyes firmly fixed on the track ahead, her arms pumping and legs turning with incredible consistency, she looked like a person who had places to be – and fast.
But, at the same time, she seemed calm and in control. Despite traveling at a pace of 2:55 per kilometre for the majority of her 10,000m, there was no fluster or signs of the tiredness that she later revealed had gripped her in the early stages. Hassan was flowing towards the finish line, where – 29 minutes and six seconds after she started – her world record ambition would be realised. Inside, the Dutch 28-year-old was giving herself a stern talking to.
“Having travelled from America, I had jet lag and I felt terrible at the beginning,” Hassan revealed. “Everything felt heavy, but I just tried to hang on to the lights. Sometimes I accidentally passed them, and I thought ‘no, calm down! Be patient.’”
The lights she describes formed part of the Wavelight technology used at the Fanny Blankers-Koen Stadion during the World Athletics Continental Tour Gold meeting in the Dutch city, programmed to highlight the pace needed to improve the world 10,000m record of 29:17.45 which had been set by Ethiopia’s Almaz Ayana at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio.
The blue lights showed world record tempo, while the green indicated the speed of Hassan’s own European record of 29:36.67 run on the same track eight months earlier. Ultimately, the double world champion’s patience paid off, as she waited until the final kilometre to move away from those bulbs. Then it was Hassan’s turn to light the way.
After kilometres of 2:56.12 and 2:56.07 behind pacemakers, Hassan ran splits of 2:55.72, 2:55.42, 2:55.42, 2:55.69, 2:55.93, 2:55.48 and 2:55.20 before upping the tempo and completing the final 1000m in 2:45.77.
As she reached her destination, the clock read 29:06.82 – a time more than 10 seconds faster than Ayana’s world record mark. What makes the performance all the more remarkable is how it forms part of a CV which also boats world records for the mile (4:12.33), women-only road 5km (14:44) and one-hour event (18,930m), plus European records in the 1500m (3:51.95), 3000m (8:18.49), 5000m (14:22.12) and half-marathon (1:05:15).
And then there’s the fact that Hassan feels she can go even quicker still.
“I know I am in shape to go under 29 minutes,” said the Tim Rowberry-coached runner, who has trained in Kenya and Utah, USA, in recent months. “But my coach said ‘no, we train for under 29 so you can run 29:17’. Yesterday I had confidence, I was like ‘I want to go 29:10’ but he said he wanted me to go exactly with the pace.”
Having started her season with a 14:35.34 5000m and then run 2:01.54 for 800m in May, she added: “I am not the sort of person who always runs a fast time in my first race. I know my training has been amazing, but I didn’t know how it would be in my competition. When I got to the last mile or the last 1500m I thought ‘okay you can do this, you can hold it’.”
The path for that performance had been paved in Hengelo last year. “I was scared in October,” she explained. “I was tired in the last couple of laps.
“I learned a lot from that race. That race taught me to hold myself back. I was telling myself that I have time to go under 29 minutes, I am just young – now I should just get the world record.
“Patience,” she added. “I learned patience.”
Her manager Jos Hermens, himself a world record-breaker, also believes that quicker times are to come.
“I think it is possible for a woman to go sub-29:00,” he said, having just witnessed Hassan’s run. “Not only Sifan, but also Letesenbet Gidey, they are very close (on times).
“Sifan prepared well, she is in good shape,” he added. “With the weather, we were very lucky because she attacked it (the record) in October in very cold conditions, but today everything was good. It worked very nicely with the Wavelight. I remember the old days when you were there with the stopwatch.”
While Hassan demonstrated that aforementioned good shape in Hengelo, before the race the world 1500m and 10,000m champion had explained how she was happy with her endurance in training but that she had been missing some speed. Now, with the Olympics in Tokyo drawing ever closer, Hassan will turn her attention to preparing for another global double – this time probably in the 5000m and 10,000m.
“I have two months – I have enough time to train for speed,” she said. “I am going to do two distances, probably the 5000m and 10,000m. I’m not going to do only the 10,000m. The programme is very perfect for 5000m and 10,000m.”
Whether she decides to turn her speed towards the 1500m or 5000m alongside the 10,000m in Tokyo, one thing for certain is that Hassan will be waiting patiently for her moment to strike and make even more history.
Jess Whittington for World Athletics